Two Holidays

As I mentioned previously, we didn't decorate for Christmas this year.

Decor from our first Christmas married, still boxed away right now
It's been kind of weird, going to others' homes and seeing the tree and lights set up in their living rooms and knowing ours looks as it always does. Wrapping presents then realizing we have no where to put them. Wondering if I still have to buy stocking stuffers if there's no stocking hung. The lack of decorations and general hubbub have made me acutely aware of what is Necessary for Christmas- what is part of the cultural construct of the holiday vs. the religious celebration of Jesus. Here's a hint: the tree and presents have very little to do with the coming of the Son of God.

I read a CS Lewis essay recently about the cultural vs religious celebration of holidays, and, just came across another story he wrote making the same point, both from a collection of essays God in the Dock. His conclusion is the one I've come to as well- let Culture celebrate their holiday as they will, it shouldn't bother me. Culture also has no obligation to celebrate the religious holiday that happens to fall on the same day as their cultural holiday if they make no claim to be a part of the religion. These two holidays can be two separate events, and individuals can choose to what extent to celebrate each one.

Three things go by the name of Christmas. One is a religious festival. This is important and obligatory for Christians; but as it can be of no interest to anyone else, I shall naturally say no more about it here. The second (it has complex historical connections with the first, but we needn’t go into them) is a popular holiday, an occasion for merry-making. If it were my business to have a ‘view’ on this, I should say that I much approve of merry-making. But what I approve of much more is everybody minding his own business. I see no reason why I should volunteer views as to how other people should spend their own money in their own leisure among their own friends. It is highly probable that they want my advice on such matters as little as I want theirs. But the third thing called Christmas is unfortunately everyone’s business.
I mean of course the commercial racket... read the rest

So, the War on Christmas? Only exists if we view the cultural & consumer holiday as the same event as the solemn religious celebration. My observation this year is that the two have very little overlap, besides a date on the calendar. Their songs, decorations, practices, characters, stories- totally different. There's nothing wrong with celebrating both (within reason), as long as I realize that one has nothing to do with the other. This year, for simplicity's sake, I'm choosing to opt out of most of the cultural practices of celebration.

Does that make me a Scrooge? I'm not sure. I hope not- I plan on giving gifts and visiting with family, and I look forward to it. I spent hours Sunday wrapping gifts and visiting with friends. We had a fun cookie exchange Monday with friends. I guess I've just seen this year how little cookies and wrapping paper have to do with Jesus. And that's totally OK- I just don't want to confuse the two celebrations, and let the cultural holiday take the place of the religious one, and let the Baby get lost in the shuffle.

Postscript #1: What does annoy me, though? The Christian music station playing songs celebrating the cultural holiday rather than the religious holiday. "Jingle Bells" and "White Christmas" have nothing to do with the holiday the station claims to be celebrating. Those are perfectly fine songs, but the other 11 months of the year, they refuse to play secular music, so what's different about the 12th? I don't get it.

Postscript #2: This same principle can be applied to Halloween (and Easter, etc), too, in my opinion- I can easily celebrate the cultural holiday of dressing in costume and meeting neighbors and eating candy without celebrating the "religious" holiday celebrating death and darkness just as easily as Culture celebrates Santa and shopping without the aspect of new life and God-in-the-flesh.


Molly said...

Wow! I think you just put into words what I have been feeling about the holidays (Halloween and Easter, too). I really love the cultural side of things, and the religious side... it just depends on the holiday which side I come down more on. We didn't go overboard on decorating this year, and I honestly feel more in touch with the religious side (and the family togetherness).

Also, I totally agree on the Christmas music on the christian station. Stick to your guns and only play the same stuff you normally do.

Have a very merry Christmas!

Joanna said...

Molly- I'm so glad someone understands where I'm coming from! I was afraid this post was going to sound all "Bah Humbug" when I don't mean it that way at all- I am just seeing the distinction so much more clearly this year. Merry Christmas to you, too!

Ashley said...

I have actually been pondering a very similar post, but have been afraid to put it on my blog. :-) I totally agree (though we differ somewhat in our opinion of Halloween, something I hope to write a post about next October). I think living in another country can make you aware of the differences too. I also think that the two Christmases are why someone who is not a Christian can still celebrate Christmas (the cultural one), and it's our responsibility to put Jesus in Christmas - not the stores!

I recently talked to a Christian who doesn't celebrate Christmas (or Easter) because of the date's pagan origins. While I respect her decision to do that, I also thought that it was sad that she couldn't separate the two. You don't have to celebrate Jesus' birth in December, but the Old Testament does make it clear that it's important to take time to remember what God has done for us! (Passover, Hanukkah, etc.)

Ashley said...

By the way, rereading my comment - I realize my last sentence could be opening up a can of worms. I probably should have thought through it more before making a statement like that! I apologize.

That being said, I think what I meant was to explain WHY it's important - and biblical - to celebrate the religious reasons of Christmas. Ideally, the two could go hand-in-hand. But if a Christian is having trouble separating them, then he/she should put aside cultural Christmas in favor of religious.

Ashley said...

Okay sorry I'm commenting too many times... but I wanted to say...

I totally get what you mean by the whole Christmas songs on Christian radio thing. BUT... practically speaking... I think I'd get sick of the same Christian Christmas songs over and over... It's nice to have a little White Christmas thrown in for variety. ;-)

Joanna said...

There are ALL KINDS of Christmas hymns and carols that don't get played because they're not quite as popular- I've yet to hear my favorite Christmas song, Go Tell It On The Mountain, at all this year, and last weekend we sang a carol Josh said he loved growing up, & I had never heard before. Also, I'm sick of "Santa Baby" and "Mommy Kissing Santa Clause" after the first hearing, so, that postscript was just a little vent. Like I said, nothing wrong with the secular songs, they're just celebrating a different holiday- and perhaps the radio station is celebrating both, too.

Kacie said...

Love this post! On years that I have babies, our Christmases are extremely low key. This year I put up a 3' fiberoptic tree and called it a night. Skipped cards. Gifts are gift cards except for Johnny. Shane and I aren't getting each other anything.

But we can still celebrate the religious holiday with minimal prepwork and that makes me feel good.


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